An Empty Cross?

Rev. Michael Keith

I was recently asked why I have a crucifix in my office at the church. I told them that we also have a crucifix hanging on the wall near the entrance to our home. They looked at me dumbfounded. "Isn't that catholic?" they asked.

Nope.

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding that has arisen around the crucifix—that somehow the displaying of a crucifix is reserved for the Roman Catholic Church. This is simply not true. You would have been hard-pressed to have found a Lutheran church before the 20th century that didn't have a crucifix predominantly displayed in the sanctuary. The crucifix is not Roman Catholic, it is not Lutheran, it is not any particular denomination. It has been, and is, used by Christians of all places and all times. However, the main concern and objection that I have heard expressed about the crucifix is that it is better to display the cross without the body of Jesus because of the resurrection. Sounds reasonable, right?

Nope.

Jesus wasn't on the cross the first Easter morning. That is certain. But that has nothing to do with His resurrection. Our Lord was taken from the cross and laid in the tomb on Good Friday. The cross was empty on Sunday whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. An empty cross is not a symbol of the resurrection—an empty tomb is!

A cross, whether it be empty or whether it has the body of Jesus on it, always represents our Lord's suffering and death for the sins and life of the world. Some would argue that a crucifix does a better job of representing that than an empty cross. Some prefer an empty cross. In Christian freedom we need not judge one another on this. But let's be clear about this: The cross does not represent the resurrection.

To answer the question: "Why do you have a crucifix in your office?" I would say something like this: It is because it reminds me of my Lord's great love and sacrifice for me, a poor sinner. The crucifix preaches to me the damning Law of God as my sin and judgement and damnation was taken up and suffered by Christ on the cross, for me and in my place. He received what I deserve. The crucifix preaches to me the life-giving Gospel as I see the extent of my Lord's love for me. If you want to see and know how God is disposed to you, then look to Jesus. He shows you the heart of God—that He is kindly disposed to you, that He is filled with love for you, that He has mercy on you, and that He will go to any and all lengths to rescue you from sin, death, and the devil. Look to the crucifix and you see the heart of God, for you!

Rev. Michael Keith serves as pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church and SML Christian Academy in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada.

Created: July 20th, 2016